Do Men Make Better Bosses Than Women (No, and Here's Why.)

Gender Stereotype Ideology Busted by Gallup and Harvard Business Review

Gallup Poll shows female managers are better at engaging their employees than male managers.

According to Gallup, an American research-based company, one in three workers in the United States have a female boss and workers who currently have a female boss state that they would prefer working for another woman in the future.  However, the majority of workers, when polled by Gallup since 1953, have consistently stated they would rather work for a man than a woman.(1)

"Why" is a question that needs to be looked at subjectively, but with an open mind.

Do Men Make Better Bosses Than Women?

That is both a loaded question and one that will have a different answer for every individual you ask.  So let’s look at some statistics to answer a different question that is a little easier to answer:  are women effective at managing? (Short answer: yes.)

In a recent Gallup Poll female managers outscored male managers when gender was the only demographic used in comparing how engaged they were with their employees (i.e., age, years of experience, industry, race, etc., were not factored in).  Twelve engagement criteria were used and women outscored men on eleven.

According to authors Kimberly Fitch and Sangeeta Agrawal who summarized the poll’s results on

 “Leaders should also know that female managers themselves tend to be more engaged than male managers. Gallup finds that 41% of female managers are engaged at work, compared with 35% of male managers. In fact, female managers of every working-age generation are more engaged than their male counterparts, regardless of whether they have children in their household. These findings have profound implications for the workplace. If female managers, on average, are more engaged than male managers, it stands to reason that they are likely to contribute more to their organization's current and future success.”(2)

An article on Forbes (April 16, 2015) interprets the data in a similar pro-female manager way:

“According to Gallup’s data, 41% of female managers are engaged at work, compared to 35% of male managers.  While I know there’s some skepticism in management circles about the exact meaning and value of “employee engagement,” I believe it’s as good a measure as any of emotional commitment to an organization, and a reasonable way to assess motivation and ultimately productivity.  A perfect measure?  No.  But a reasonable one?  Yes.” (3)

What is Engagement?

How bosses engage their employees may be somewhat variable, however, engagement generally refers to how effectively a manager:

  • Recognizes and rewards workers for their performance and efforts;
  • Allows employees growth opportunities to learn new skills and for advancement;
  • Effectiveness of communication between management, workers, and the organization’s goals;
  • The level of respect employees have for their boss and the degree of respect a boss has for their own workers;
  • Creates an atmosphere of communication – a good manager solicits and considers feedback and suggestions from workers.

Does Gender Play a Role in manager-Employee Engagement?

While Gallup’s data clearly implies that women do make great managers (at least in terms of engagement) there are a few other interesting statistics that demonstrate how gender may play a role in who is being engaged as much as who is doing the engaging:

  • 35% engagement when managers and employees are both female;
  • 31% engagement when managers are male and workers are female;
  • 29% engagement when managers are female and workers are male;
  • 25% engagement when both managers and employees are male.

It is interesting to note that the highest level of engagement was associated with being female both for bosses and workers and the lowest level of engagement was when both boss and subordinates were both male.  However, as is the case of all studies, it is important to remember the correlation is not the same thing as causation.  In order words, women may have been ranked more favorably than their male peers, but it is simply because they are women? 

To answer this question, an article appearing in Harvard Business Review (HBR) summarizing women’s strengths independent of Gallup offer some great insights.  HBR surveyed 7,280 leaders of some of the most successful organizations in the world from private and public sectors as well as government, commercial, and both domestic and international organizations.

The survey concluded that the stereotypical attributions assigned to the female gender (such as being more nurturing and better at forging relationships) did have some merit in terms of women being ranked higher than men, but the results were not constrained to stereotypes:

…”women’s advantages were not at all confined to traditionally women’s strengths. In fact at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows…” (4)

At all managerial levels women outscored men in leadership skills and competency – even disproving some antiquated notions about stereotypical traits that define men as being superior to women in business: 

“two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree — taking initiative and driving for results — have long been thought of as particularly male strengths. As it happened, men outscored women significantly on only one management competence in this survey — the ability to develop a strategic perspective…” (4)

The authors had an opinion as to why women ranked so much better than men and yet remain widely untapped resources among companies – especially in top-level, key positions:  blatant discrimination.

Perhaps the best approach to take when promoting within is to simply disregard gender completely.  Both men and women can be great managers – or they can be lousy managers.   It is our perceptions about genders that limit us the most, and not our gender itself.



  1. Why Women Are Better Managers Than Men (Why Women Are Better Managers Than Men) By: Fitch, Kimblery and Agrawal,  Sangeeta.
  2. More People State Preference for Male Boss. By: Wolfe, Lahle.
  3. Are Women Really, As This Major Research Says, Better Managers Than Men? (Forbes) By: Lipmna, Victor.
  1. Are Women Better Leaders than Men? (Harvard Business Review) By: Zenger, Jack and Folkman, Joseph.